So many of the lessons you teach your students have the power to impact their lives through adulthood. Developing a love of reading at a young age can turn curious kids into lifelong learners. Cultivating an interest in nature through botany lessons can encourage children to wonder about the world around them — from large mammals to the smallest algae.
While you might cover botany topics in a specific part of the year, you can foster a love of plants and gardening in students from the first day of school. Follow these ideas to engage students in various flora, whether carnivorous flowers or common trees in the school parking lot.
Bring Plants To Your Classroom
You don’t need complex lesson plans to instill a curiosity about plants in students. Simply bringing a plant into the classroom can have an impact. Plants can make kids curious about nature and how things grow — especially if the plant gets bigger or blooms throughout the year.
In his article at Edutopia, outdoor learning teacher Christopher Weber shares a list of top plants that can survive even the most rambunctious classrooms. You can add a couple of these to your classroom to introduce students to botany before diving into your lessons.
Of course, you don’t always have to play it safe with plants in the classroom. The team at Cultivation Street list 10 exciting plants that can make students curious about botany. Introduce your students to carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap or pitcher plant. You can also bring in some living stones that look like pebbles but are actually plants.
Your students might not realize it immediately, but a love of plants is something all of us have in common. Emma McDonald at Teach Starter says plants help us access our natural biophilia, or a love of life and the living world. “In layman’s terms, this means that human beings are subconsciously drawn towards nature,” McDonald says. “It’s in our DNA.”
Plants have been proven to contribute to psychological well-being and can reduce anxiety levels. Even a small houseplant can have a big impact on your classroom.
Start a School or Classroom Garden
Another way to engage students in plants and their growth throughout the year is to start a class garden. If this project seems a bit intense, consider collaborating with other teachers in your grade to manage the garden together. You can pool your resources, time and ideas to create a valuable asset for your school.
“Gardens are a great way to get kids outside with a purpose,” says retired elementary school teacher Susan Hobart. “With gardens, kids get to see a beginning, a middle and an end to their project, with tangible results.”
Students can learn the importance of planning for a project, setting long-term goals, celebrating successes and experiencing failures. Gardening can serve as a foundation for your social-emotional learning goals.
There is a strategy to which plants you choose when developing a school garden. Some might be better than others for your lesson purposes.
“A school garden project should consider integrating a mix of produce that will ‘bear fruit’ within the school year and those that will not be harvested for quite some time,” according to the team at the Plant A Seed Foundation. “This is useful not only for the diversity of the overall yield, but it encourages patience and long term investment from all parties involved, in particular that of the students.”
Your students can even grow plants that the next group of students can harvest — and you will already have some greenery in your flower beds when you return to school in the fall.
If you need to wait to collect gardening resources or don’t have space near your school, consider developing a window herb garden or a collection of pots on your window sill.
“It might be easiest to start the process inside in a small planter or pot. This gives you more control over fragile seedlings as they first take root,” says Jason White at All About Gardening. “It is also easier to keep kids invested and remember to water the seeds every day.”
For additional resources, KidsGardening.org has activities and lesson plans you can pull from. There are also multiple grant opportunities for teachers, community leaders and students to help bring gardening to local kids. All levels of learners from preschool through K-12 can benefit.
Plant-Inspired Arts and Crafts
Students of all ages can use plants to inspire their arts and creative activities. Consider what your students can handle from an artistic standpoint and develop lessons that show how nature influences art.
For younger students, early childhood educator Leslie Garner suggests making 3D flowers. You can turn this into a “trash to treasure” recycling project where kids use items that would otherwise sit in a landfill. Each student can create a flower that matches their own personality. This is a great way to show how diverse gardens (and people) can be.
Older students might enjoy botanical illustrations, which focus on the anatomy of the plant and highlight its uses and value to society. “Botanical illustration is the art of depicting the form, color, and details of plant life,” writes artist Emma Taggart. “The practice can be traced back to sometime between 50 and 70 CE when an illustrated book titled ‘De Materia Medica’ was created by Greek botanist Pedanius Dioscorides to help readers identify plant species for medicinal purposes.”
There are dozens of ways to use plants in art-based botany lessons, from using plants as mixed media to taking inspiration from their colors and shapes.
Tie Botany Lessons to Other STEAM Concepts
If you have a passion for plants, you can build botany into STEAM concepts. Plants can help students learn about everything from engineering to solar energy.
Upper elementary school teacher Tammy DeShaw offers several lesson plans you can use to teach students about plants. One STEAM activity ties into learning that plants are living things, while also tapping into key engineering skills. Students are “hired” to create a package that will keep plants alive during shipping for five days. At the end of the five days, students will evaluate the health of their plants to see how they did.
She includes a “Did I Stay Alive?” evaluation chart. You can use this activity to talk about what plants need (sunlight, oxygen, water) and how certain structures can meet those needs.
The team at Science Buddies has multiple botany-based projects too. One shows how water travels through plants. Place a few plants in vases with different colors of water (a basic food coloring dye should work). Over time, you can see how the plants change color by drinking the water and spreading it through their petals.
Of course, it’s hard to talk about plants without discussing photosynthesis. Project Learning Tree does a good job of explaining this concept to K-8 students. There are also activities you can try to show how photosynthesis works. This can involve a simple demonstration where you show how plants rotate toward the sun to get light — proving that plants move and are living objects, even if they move very slowly.
Emily Hunt at How to STEM lays out a daffodil dissection activity. You need a daffodil, scissors and tweezers to handle the smaller parts of the plant. Students can snip off each part of the plant to see what it looks like outside of the entire flower. You can have your students create charts by taping these parts of the daffodil to paper and labeling them.
Bring Your Students Into Nature
While you can bring plants into the classroom, there may be times when your students would benefit more from being fully immersed in plant life. Consider which field trips would allow them to experience unique plants they wouldn’t otherwise see.
Andrew Gaumond, the editorial director at Petal Republic, created a list of the best botanical gardens in every state. See if his favorite botanical garden is near you or use this guide as inspiration to find one locally. Many botanical gardens have field trip programs that make use of state curricula. Reach out to your local gardens to see what they offer.
If you aren’t able to take a physical field trip, look into virtual options. During the pandemic, numerous organizations created virtual field trips and still offer them today. For example, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science has a virtual geology hike on Zoom and ends with a meeting with one of the raptors they rehab there. An experience like this can focus on the botany, geology, watershed impacts and animals living in the area.
In the same way each student has their own favorite animals and colors, expect them to have unique interests in plants. Some may be drawn to dramatic lilies or roses, while others love succulents and carnivorous plants. Use botany lessons to discuss science concepts, but also let students engage creatively with the plants they’re most drawn to.